Posted: Saturday , Jul 25, 2009 at 0447 hrs
Chennai: It was early this week that AIADMK general secretary and former chief minister J Jayalalithaa announced her party's decision to boycott the forthcoming Assembly by-elections to five constituencies, citing the use of money and muscle power by the DMK in the polls and the Election Commission's inability to check it. However, in Tamil Nadu, few believe that's the real reason.
Announcing the decision at Coonoor on Monday, Jaya lashed out at the Centre as well as the state government, in both of which rival DMK has a stake. "There is a feeling among leaders that there is no point in contesting in a situation where only money and muscle decide the outcome of a poll. Elections are not conducted in a democratic manner, and all complaints become irrelevant once the process is completed. This decision was taken to make all take notice of our genuine complaints," said a party leader.
However, both party insiders and political observers say the AIADMK's reasons could be far less lofty. For one, perhaps, that the party has not faredwell in consecutive by-polls since 2006, damaging workers' morale seriously. In the three by-polls in and around Madurai since the last Assembly elections, the DMK-led ruling alliance has romped home with a significant majority. The Lok Sabha elections, on which Jayalalithaa had pinned her hopes, came as a further blow.
"Another round of failure may not be the best medicine to rejuvenate our cadres," admitted a party leader on condition of anonymity.
The boycott call, incidentally, was first made by ally PMK, hours before the AIADMK adopted the resolution at its emergency executive committee meeting, and was immediately supported by junior partner MDMK. The Left parties, meanwhile, expressed surprise over the decision, but have declared they will contest the elections after all. .
"The way the AIADMK, PMK and MDMK moved forward with the decision to boycott suggests that there was an earlier agreement among them in this regard, and that it was merely formalised by the AIADMK executive committee," said a source in the Left.
Some caution, however, that the move could actually backfire on the AIADMK, with many seeing it as abdication of its responsibility as the main opposition party in an electoral democracy. "Of the five constituencies, the AIADMK has a strong presence in Bargur and Ilayamkudi. If they give the DMK a virtual walk-over, it would be more difficult to win these seats back in coming elections," noted the source.
Would the boycott have any effect?
Cho Ramaswamy, the noted social critic and satirist who has assumed the role of Jayalalithaa's consultant, says he understands why the AIADMK hopes so, but has his doubts. Giving the example of a recent by-poll at Thirumangalam, cited by some as one of the most corrupt elections in the state, he says: "The AIADMK's decision to boycott elections would make the public sit up and take notice of the way elections are managed here.
There were several complaints like distribution of money and gifts and bribing election agents, but no action was taken." However, he adds: "Who among the public remembers all those allegations? Even during the Lok Sabha elections, there were many charges of malpractices. What happened to those complaints? I doubt if the boycott would convince the public in any manner. If anything, it may only give more significance to smaller parties like the DMDK."
Meanwhile, undeterred, Jayalalithaa justified the boycott decision in a statement on Thursday. "Boycott is a perfectly legitimate form of democratic protest. The fact remains that the democratic process is being vitiated and the only way to register our protest is to boycott the polls."
To buttress her argument, she went way back to pre-Independence — a time and period, some would say, not really comparable. Mahatma Gandhi too, Jayalalithaa noted, had asked the Congress party to boycott elections in 1920s to register protest against unfair British laws.